Our soil is an active, living, breathing ecosystem. It is what gives our planet life, but it needs to be cared for so it will continue to regenerate and sustain us.
Most people don’t think about what’s happening beneath their feet. But the truth is that healthy soil is essential to our survival. Soil is an incredible source of connection between people, wildlife and communities. It is essential to our environment as well as our personal health, wealth and well-being.
The benefits of healthy soil
In addition to the plants that grow in it, soil provides many environmental benefits.
Soil Protects us from heatwaves, especially in cities.
Soil Prevents and regulates flooding.
Soil Captures and stores carbon.
Soil Stores, filters and transforms nutrients, contaminants and water.
Soil Hosts one quarter of all the world's biodiversity.
Soil Produces 95% of our food globally.
Six major threats to Canada’s soil
Despite the value of this resource, soil is being degraded across Canada. Once healthy soil is lost, it is not easily replaced. Canada’s Prairie soils took over 10,000 years to form. Yet, more than half of the organic matter in these soils has been lost over the last century. Current threats include:
As communities grow, soil degradation increases. Topsoil and natural vegetation are removed to build our homes, but this is damaging to the health of the soil.
Without the deep roots of trees holding soil in place, it can be easily eroded by wind and water. Treed areas are important to protecting our soil.
Natural areas such as grasslands, wetlands and forests keep our soils healthy. If they are removed from the landscape for other uses, it impacts the health of the soil.
Cultivation is the practice of turning over the topsoil to prepare the land to plant crops, but it exposes the soil and puts it at risk of erosion. New technologies and techniques can reduce or eliminate cultivation and help safeguard soil during planting.
Livestock producers are skilled at moving their animals so they graze for short periods of time, which helps to rest and rejuvenate the vegetation on the land. Without proper grazing practices, soil can be degraded from overuse.
As our climate changes and we experience more extreme weather, our soil is put at risk from drought, flooding and wind erosion. This is why keeping vegetation on the landscape is important to minimize the impacts.
Dirt cheap? Definitely not. Canada’s soil has significant economic value.
According to DUC’s partners at the Soil Conservation Council of Canada, soil erosion costs Canadians $3 billion every year. When soil decreases in quantity and quality there is a financial cost incurred to replace the lost environmental benefits it provides, such as:
- Increased costs for fertility in agricultural production
- Decreased property value
- Decreased quality of drinking water and food
- Increased water treatment costs
- Increased illness and health care costs
- Increased costs to manage waterways and estuaries
- Losses to fishery resources
- Decreased revenues from tourism activities associated with healthy ecosystems
Healthy food and clean water start with soil biodiversity
Soil is the most biologically diverse material on the planet. In fact, a teaspoon of healthy soil contains more organisms than there are people on Earth.
Healthy soil depends on a vibrant range of life forms that exist both above and below the ground. This includes bacteria and fungi, earthworms, ants and other insects, as well as moles and large grazing animals like cattle.
The improbable world of Canada’s peatlandsRead now
Peat soils: powerful carbon sinks
All wetlands play a crucial role in the carbon cycle that moderates our climate by storing carbon in their soils.
Peatlands, a type of wetland which is found across the boreal region of Canada, are particularly effective. Peatlands hold twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests. They are as globally significant as rainforests, and function as critical carbon sinks for addressing our climate crisis.
Draining and destroying peatlands intensifies climate change. When peat soils are disturbed, the stored carbon is released as a greenhouse gas that heats up the atmosphere. As Canada looks to find solutions to the ongoing climate crisis, it’s critical to conserve these precious ecosystems.
What is Ducks Unlimited Canada doing to support and enhance soil health?
We partner with farmers and ranchers and other soil conservation organizations to promote the benefits of sustainably managed soils and beneficial land management practices.
We invest in soil health research and field-scale demonstrations to fully understand how our actions on the landscape can promote soil conservation. Our on-the-ground habitat conservation work of protecting and restoring grasslands, wetlands and forests directly impacts soil health across the country. Our policy and education initiatives are increasing awareness for governments and youth to take action for better soil health outcomes.
Stories about conservation and soil health
Soil is at the root of a healthy planet but we’re treating it like dirt
Healthy soil safeguards nature, filters water, stores carbon and increases biodiversity both above and below ground. It also provides 95 per cent of the food we eat. The bottom line: healthy soil is at the root of everything essential to our survival.
National Soil Conservation Week: A conversation with Jill Owen
Conservation specialist shares her experience and love for the soil under our feet and how it plays a critical role in a sustainable food system.
Conservation easements support soil health, bring back biodiversity
Landowner creates a natural "paradise" in Saskatchewan's Touchwood Hills.
More ecosystems where we are making an impact
Our conservation efforts impact diverse areas across the entire country—including your community.
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